Refusal Of Ultra-Religious To Sit With Women Causes LY Delay
Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw
How far does religious freedom go?
An impasse involving four men who refused to sit next to any women – and who further refused to listen to female flight attendants – has caused problems for El Al. And it’s not the first time.
The airline has been accused of discrimination after it reportedly moved two female passengers after pressure from the male travellers who refused to sit next to them. The male travellers apparently belong to a Jewish ultra-Orthodox sect so devout that that the men kept their eyes shut throughout the flight from New York to Tel Aviv, to avoid having to look at women.
Takeoff was delayed by more than an hour while the airline tried to sort out the problem. Finally, the women were forced to move, a result that has stirred controversy.
A male passenger on the flight, Khen Rotem, wrote on Facebook that initial attempts by flight crew to reason with the men failed because the flight attendants were women, the Times of Israel reported. The men wouldn’t speak to the flight attendants due to their sex.
“The crew tries to solve the problem,” Rotem wrote. “This doesn’t work. The female flight attendants clear space for the authoritative men on board … the ultra-Orthodox are not ready to speak with, or even look at the female flight attendants.”
“All the men in the crew, except for the captain, are now only dealing with this instead of preparing for takeoff and serving the passengers. The ultra-Orthodox don’t blink. One of the crew members threatens: ‘If you don’t sit down, you can get off the plane right now.'”
Finally, “after a lot of writhing, shouts and manoeuvering,” an elderly American women and a young Israeli woman agreed to switch seats.
Rotem says he has asked El Al to clarify whether it has an official policy on the issue, the paper reported.
“Can any traveller demand – and receive – moving other passengers from their places for their personal wellbeing and in accordance with their beliefs. Or is this a privilege reserved only for a segment of travellers,” he wrote.
El Al later apologized for any “inconvenience” over the issue. “Any discrimination against passengers is absolutely forbidden,” Hadashot TV news quoted the airline saying.
“El Al flight attendants do all they can in order to provide service to a wide variety of passengers with different and diverse requests and try to assist to the best of their ability.
Last year, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that El Al couldn’t force women to change seats at the request of ultra-Orthodox men.
Rotem noted that other Orthodox men aboard expressed “surprise and revulsion” at the conduct of the four ultra-Orthodox men.
Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief
An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.